Sea dispute no barrier to celebrations in the Philippines

Sea dispute no barrier to celebrations in the Philippines
A stall selling Chinese New Year-related merchandise in Manila's Binondo district, considered the cradle of Chinese influence in the Philippines.

One of the Philippines' many ironies is that while Manila and Beijing are feuding over the South China Sea, a large chunk of the Philippine economy is kept alive by Filipinos with roots in mainland China.

That irony is even more pronounced as Chinese New Year rolls by, when China's flag is hoisted alongside the Philippine flag in Manila's Binondo district, the cradle of Chinese influence in the Philippines.

The two countries are locked in heated disputes over territories in the 3.5 million sq km South China Sea, a sea lane vital for its resources and strategic location. Some pundits are even warning that an armed conflict may be inevitable.

But in Binondo, the Chinese-majority community firmly believes there is much hope for peaceful co-existence. Manila councillor Bernie Ang, whose district covers Binondo, said "relations between our two peoples should continue", no matter how caustic the disagreements that separate the two sides. Binondo's council chief Nelson Ty said: "China is willing to share. We can share whatever we both can get."

Asked where their loyalty lies in the unlikely event of a conflict, the two were unequivocal.

"Even China is saying that wherever you were born, grew up, that is your country. We are considered Filipinos, so we will fight for the Philippines," said Mr Ang. Said Mr Ty: "I won't side with China. I am here. My being Filipino takes precedence."

Created by the Spaniards in 1594, the 66ha Binondo is the oldest and largest Chinatown in the world. It was meant to separate Chinese immigrants from the well-to-do population of native Filipinos and Spaniards who lived in Manila's Intramuros district.

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